Sprawl – Sam Machell
October 25, 2019
Spraaaaawled. Weren’t you, Salma? What do you remember of that night? I know you don’t want to. Black and white and blue. Concrete on the sofa with your vision fixed. From left to right across the mantelpiece, I sing what you saw: you graduated with a 2:2, the stones in ancient archways, uncrumbled, beige, sloppy, slim and black, your gown, your glowing face under the light of the sun you thought you owned, walnut and mercury, the hat in flight sprocketing the light, your friends’ eyes closed, begun to hunch in laughter and teeth gleaming joy! Fluoride! What were their names? Who cares! You left them behind. One of them committed suicide and they didn’t even remember you… Did you know that? Did you know? I bet you didn’t. But better watch that drool! Be careful! I know you can hear me girl, I can see your eyes moving behind the lids, squirming true. What else was there? Us two, hm? You and your old Dad. Oklahoma and Salma. Yes, that photo was there. Your mother had such gorgeous dark skin, like fine varnished wood. Yours never had quite the same allure… Spraaaaaawled across my lap in that picture like you were on that sofa, limbs like liquid, fuzzy, seeping into the stained fabric, matted and heavy as the memory. You couldn’t move. You couldn’t move your eyes. Your lower lip or your eyes… Pathetic. You listen to me now. The mantelpiece aslanted like a sinking ship… The double vision flailing… Panic girl! Keep focus! Other photos of us and your mother, such a long time, her home in Trinidad, a hummingbird in flight, first cruise on the North Atlantic when I bought you that boat, you smiling at the helm with that stupid pink captain’s cap and a glass of something girly. Some stranger’s brown arm poking into shot, matted animal hair. Squeaky plastic toys on the floor around you, germified minefield, sticky from grease, oak varnished furniture and brass, expensive expensive. You treated it like this? Pockets of stinking brown powder in spermy plastic wrap… The black and white and blue of the baby monitor: that’s what you need to focus on. Focus: watch the little one. Where is it now? Phantom. Not the tinfoil in your lap or the lighter on the arm, big hanging globbing ropes of drool, swinging pathetic pendulum, it stinks, the crunch of your skull and chins and your lazy eye half crushed by sinking lids. Glowing like a god by moonlight on the night vision screen, remember, your love, you loved it I think, sleeping peacefully there, crunchy and bright, spittle hardened and crunchy on the chin like a shield to adolescence, toddling arms feeling out the night’s young dreams, dumpy, squishy little arms and legs, so delicious, so small, murmuring no language, no language you can hear through the crackle of that tiny gadget, surrounded by the bars of the cot well warmed from useless grips and weeps, framed from above, delicately diagonal like CCTV in a cell, the room behind consumed by crackling blue darkness… You there, slipping back… in and out of this haze and the light of graduation… Try harder to remember. You’re not squirming enough. Where did it go? Your legs suddenly hot and wet and piss dripping onto the carpet, settling like blood and blooming. Shit yourself too why don’t you? Go the whole way. It hurts so much seeing you like this, wearing the Prada I bought you as a treat, remember, when you got that job at the supermarket, what the urine does to clothing like that… The TV was on and loud, a cry, shows screaming out, doesn’t work like it used to… What was the point? The wasted energy? Yelling, fawning, the echo of pain transmitted across the room to your melting ears… Room stinking like some chipshop, bitter vinegar, pickled egg, urine… not like these old sawdust-spread floorhouses you read about at school, coming home from school with a book like that, not appropriate for a young girl, you see now why I confiscated it? Of course you do. The night light fizzling, turning very slowly around the room, pronged stars and ringed planets, rendered a smear, meer smudges of pixels on the baby monitor. You’d placed the screen on the arm of the sofa, balanced, crooked in the soft ridges, where your head rested, the lighter between you, plastic red, your slow and groaning stinking air manifesting as a barrier that waxed and waned, couldn’t hear any snoring, couldn’t see any REM, could barely see that spittle-crusted, piggy little face… A really ugly child. I know you’d never admit that. Who was the father? He must’ve been a junky too… Here comes the orb. This is what you can’t remember, smacked out and half asleep, clear to me now from this side of life. Maybe it was a speckle of dust or an insect sighing across the scene… But the menace in its headward float… Remember that? The way it moved without acceleration, left, right, down to an inch above the sleeping head, liquifying or solidifying, taking on qualities of arms, a turning head, translucent, a human shape with fingers wrapped around the bars, peering, an orb again… off rocketting out of frame… The squishy fleshy arms of that thing, heaven reaching stumps of fingers bending towards its position, following it away… And you couldn’t do a thing. When the TV screamed and your shoulders rose to consume your head, swallowed whole by the sofa’s embrace, the baby… Who cares about the name, what you wanted, I was always opposed to it, I’ll never say its name, I never told you that did I? I hated its name and I hated it… Like a shot to the veins, dissolved, intravenal, bubbling in the swaddling of the spoon, its body became pixels and filtered away into the path of the light… The shape out the window… It’s dumb forever now. It’s here with me but it’ll never learn to speak… At night I sometimes bring it with me on my descent, to these walls of your invention… your office, your sleeping bag… to send wails into your dreaming head as a reminder. Do you hear them? Do you hear the crack of our infection? The crunch? No matter how much I kick it, I can never seem to stop the drooling. Only makes it worse. Great torrents of the putrid stuff. In streaming dangling strings thicker than its plush little arms. Thicker than its ribs. My hand grips comfortably. I worry often it’ll wake you, but it never does. Like now. You sleep through it all. This is what you have in common: like mother, like daughter: the wet patch on the pillow.